HC Deb 17 December 2001 vol 377 cc8-9
4. Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)

What evidence he has collated on changes in the crime rate in England in the last four years. [21146]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)

The most recent British crime survey, published on 25 October, showed the largest ever reduction in crime in one year, totalling a 22 per cent. reduction since 1997. We intend to extend the sample surveyed to 40,000 in order to be able to narrow the figures down to command unit level, so that we can make a proper comparison of like with like.

I should like to make the point that economic and social policies, including a reduction in unemployment, have contributed to the fall, but so has the work of the police service. Thirty-four of the 43 force areas have seen a reduction in recorded crime as well as that in the BCS statistics. The message needs to go out to Glen Smyth and others in the Metropolitan police federation that we deeply care about what the police are doing; we want more of them on the beat in the community; and we want police on our streets, policing and securing them, not demonstrating on them.

Mr. Foster

I thank my right hon. Friend for those encouraging statistics, which show that we have indeed been tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. They are especially welcome after the rising crime experienced for so many years under the previous regime. However, people still fear crime to an alarming and perhaps unjustified extent. Will he suggest ways in which we might assuage the fears of people whose fear of crime is unjustified?

Mr. Blunkett

There was, of course, a doubling of crime in those years, so while acknowledging all the provisos and the need to avoid complacency, I believe that welcome progress is being made. The BCS also shows changes in reassurance levels and a decrease in fear of crime to the levels of 20 years ago, which is most encouraging. Some of the crime reduction measures that my hon. Friend has been advocating based on experience in the St. Leonards district of his constituency, which include getting more people on the beat in small shopping centres and using closed circuit television cameras, ensure that people not only feel safer but are safer under a Labour Government.

Norman Baker (Lewes)

I welcome the Home Secretary's drawing attention to low clear-up rates in some areas and his sensible suggestions of how to deal with them, but I remain concerned about reliance on performance indicators. By placing too much emphasis on indicators, might we not encourage police forces to drive up clear-up rates by no longer devoting manpower and attention to the most serious crimes, which currently have a high clear-up rate, and concentrating instead on clearing up lots of minor crimes, which is far easier?

Mr. Blunkett

Sampling and according credit for the whole of the reduction rather than focusing on individual performance targets is important. I do not disagree that we have to be able to accord credit for things that are difficult to record, such as reducing antisocial behaviour and disorder, rather than simply measuring and giving credit for things that are easily monitored. We must get that serious issue right and ensure that the police are able to respond to the particular needs of their community.